Last week myself and a few friends went crossed the channel for a short visit to Belgium. We went to the beautiful town of Ypres in the north of the country to look at some of the World War I sites. With the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war later this year I would recommend a visit to one of the war graves, memorials or trench sites. The whole experience is an emotional one, especially if like me you are in to your military history. We went to the Menin Gate in Ypres. It is one of the World War I memorials to those men of the British Empire & Commonwealth who have not been found. Those individuals that have no know grave but will lie somewhere in the Ypres area. There are almost 55,000 names on that memorial. The gate is an area where the weight of history feels heavy and a certain atmosphere is present. Being into my history you get use to hearing numbers in the tens of thousands for WWI and WWII battles, but to actually stand there and see name after name lovingly carved into the stone…the feeling is hard to describe.
Above is a shot of the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall…except it isn’t medieval, and neither is the cathedral behind it. The town has the look of a medieval centre but the reality is that the whole place was flattened in WWI as this image that I lifted from Wikipedia shows below.
This is the Cloth Hall and cathedral in 1919. It’s fantastic to see such effort has been made in rebuilding, but then again what else would you do. Living in the latter part of the 20th century it is hard to visualize such destruction, but this helps to keep the memory alive.
Elsewhere you can visit areas of preserved/reconstructed trenches. We went to such a place just east of the town. Visiting after so much rain the past month made the clay soil rather boggy and helped give me some idea of what those brave soldiers lived in.
I’ll leave you with a image from these allied trenches to the town of Ypres, and as a closing thought some of those 54,896 commemorated at the Menin Gate will lie in these fields.